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Shameless Pitches

Your Book Coach

I’m just back from the Harvard Medical School publishing course and, like everyone else who attended–faculty and participants alike–buzzing with excitement. The e-mail I received last night from one of my book writing students, Abby Rodman, sums up the experience well:

“I didn’t anticipate how exciting this conference would

Over dinner, Abby, Ryan, Cate, Jackie and I brainstormed titles and talking points for their shameless pitches.
Over dinner, Abby, Ryan, Cate, Jackie and I brainstormed titles and talking points for their shameless pitches.

be. The energy, intellect and talent that filled the ballroom at the Copley Plaza was electrifying. Doing the Shameless Pitches exercise, I thought my heart would beat out of my chest. Seventy seconds to get interest in my book…? It turned out to be one of the highlights. It challenged me, for the first time, to REALLY put my book idea out there.

“Getting positive feedback from agents, publishers and coaches couldn’t have felt better! A few wanted to speak to me about my book and I made some great connections.”

So, what’s a shameless pitch? Describe your book concept in 70 seconds or less. Oh yes, and be sure to make clear who your audience is, what’s unique about your book, why people will read it, why you’re the one to write it and what kind of platform you already have as an author.

On Left: Literary Agent Regina Brooks presented and also served on the Shameless Pitches Panel. On right: Randy Kamen-Gredinger is a returning participant. Her book proposal is in the hands of several potential publishers.
On Left: Literary Agent Regina Brooks presented and also served on the Shameless Pitches Panel. On right: Randy Kamen-Gredinger is a returning participant. Her book proposal is in the hands of several potential publishers, thanks to her agent, Jeanne Fredericks, whom she met at the conference three years ago.

A panel of experts–literary agents, a publicist, publishers (acquisitions editors), editors and writing coaches–in their fastest and, hence, most illegible script–let you know how you fare on the above criteria.

Who would subject themselves to such torture? Apparently a good fifty or so aspiring authors who know the feedback will be instrumental in refining the concept of their book. The exercise also pays off when an agent writes, “Please see me. I’m interested” at the bottom of the page.

Some of the takeaways I heard from participants:

  • From surgeon Catherine Tucker, MD, “I’m now thinking the book should be part memoir, part activism, part advice rather than a straight memoir,” after so many people came up to her afterward to comment on how much they could have used a book like hers.
  • From Ryan Zaklin, MD, MA, a resident in Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Clinical Teaching Fellow at Harvard Medical School, “I really had no idea what the heck my book was about, and less of an idea of how to describe it. That is all changed. Also, platform is the key to success. And I can start building one with a few simple steps.”
  • Another participant told me he realized that the book he pitched was not the book he’ll write first. Conversations at the conference, including ours, made it clear he should write the book that leveraged his current platform and use that to support other books in the future.

If you attended the conference, what’s your takeaway? What insights did you have? Did being at the conference clarify your book for you? Or send you back to the drawing board? What’s your biggest question, now that you’re back?

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. Pascale says

    I have always wanted to write, but this conference made me realize how much I NEED to write. The book I pitched will be the book I write first, but I have had several other ideas since I left.
    Thanks to you and the other participants for making this such a valuable and transformative experience.

  2. Jackie Fein-Zachary says

    I went to this conference for the first time a couple years ago not knowing if I had anything particular to say, just sure that I wanted to write. I left knowing exactly the story I wanted to tell. This year I returned to hone my writing skills, to present a writing sample for editing and to do a “shameless pitch.” That was the hardest part of the conference for me but it turned out to be the most rewarding. With your help, Lisa, and that of Abby, Ryan and Cate (and later that night, my wife), I put together a powerful enough pitch to have an editor/judge send me the dreamed of message: “send it to me!”

  3. Kate says

    Hi Lisa!

    It was great to meet you at the conference, which I agree was the best ever … I left inspired and look forward to what lies ahead!


  4. Cate Tucker says

    Hi Lisa
    For follow-up comments…I saw a movie last night and I actually knew what the word “subtext” meant! Nothing to do with textbooks and sub-categories clearly. Also, the concept of a platform is still evolving into what it should be for me, where last wednesday I had NO idea what it meant. Looking forward to the future.


  5. Nina Sutton says

    Hi Lisa,
    The course was so rewarding because it was challenging! My book idea was very well received by some and thought to be perhaps heading toward an already saturated market by others. So, the path continues. One positive surprise came during the Writer’s Workshop when I received praise for my writing from the facilitator. Thank you for your encouragement and I hope we will see each other again soon!

  6. lisatener says

    Pascale, it’s exciting to realize how many books you might have in you. Jackie, what a great pitch: glad to hear you got feedback despite it being fiction (at a nonfiction focused conference)–that’s a great sign. Kate, Cate and Nina: Glad you’re inspired. I look forward to working with you in classes. And Nina, congrats on the writing praise. It was wonderful to meet you all (and see you again, Jackie).
    What an impressive group, all around!

  7. Judy Osborne says

    Lisa, Thanks for your public and private talks. Last night I woke up from a dream and saw a block of beautiful marble just ready for the chisel – to find the piece of sculpture that will be my book. I’m deep into rewriting and finding blogs to get that platform going. Judy

  8. Dr.Randy Kamen Gredinger says

    Hi Lisa, Another amazing writing and publishing conference presented by Harvard Medical School’s Julie Silver. Some of the highlights from me were connecting with you and other people I’ve gotten to know over the years. Even though I am now familiar with much of the information presented I always seem to glean some important gems. I met some interesting people that I might want to do future projects with and learned some of the work that colleagues are doing. I invariably feel inspired about the possibilities when I attend this particular conference. It’s so rich in ideas, content, connections and support. Glad we got to spend some time together… Randy

  9. Jackie Fein-Zachary says

    Your newsletter continues to inspire me … and always, it seems, just when I need it. 🙂 Thanks.

  10. Dr.Jeanne-Paule Ouellet , Montreal Canada . says

    Dear Lisa ,
    I appreciated very much the HMS CME Courses about Harvard writers . First I thought to be there just listening the speakers . Finally , I have received so good pushing at the workshop ,therefore , my life turned 360 degrees . Yes ,I have decided to take this road , inside me since many years ,and ,never explored

    My way to listen the music in not the same , my way to get the news changed and my way to read is totally different …I pay more attention to the words… which teach me a lot about writing .Since the conferences ,I have red 6 books ;some about proposal , some about authors/speakers from the conferences .
    I write and rewrite every day .
    It was not possible for me to meet you ; every time the line was too long to wait …People like you .
    My thanks go to Harvard writers courses to inspire me for a new sense of everyday life in my medical practice and beginner’s writer .Books provide and indulge the life !

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